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Many American Independent Party Voters In California Are Mis-Registered


The American Independent Party has about a half a million members here in California. But according to an investigation by The LA Times, many of those voters might be in the party by accident. When they checked the box on their voter registration form, they thought they were registering as independents - like lowercase I.

But instead, they are now members of the AIP. It's a far-right party that once nominated the segregationist George Wallace for president. And now that mix up could have real impact on California's primary. John Myers wrote about this for The LA Times. He's with us now. Thanks for coming on the show.

JOHN MYERS: Happy to do it - thank you.

MCEVERS: So tell us. What is the American Independent Party, and what does it stand for?

MYERS: Well, the American Independent Party is a minor political party in California. They are against abortion rights. They are against illegal immigration and want to crack down on immigration, and they are against same-sex marriage.

MCEVERS: It seems like for some time, people in politics thought that the people were accidentally registering for this party, but you actually commissioned a survey to get some hard numbers on this. What did you find?

MYERS: Yeah, we wanted to see how much of it was beyond the anecdote. And so a bipartisan team of pollsters - one Democrat, one Republican - got together with us on a pro bono basis. We worked on the questions, and we polled only members of the American Independent Party - so only those party members.

And we asked them, are you in a party? And 73 percent of them said, I'm in no party at all, which, of course, wasn't true because they're in the American Independent Party. Only 4 percent of the entire poll could identify the AIP, American Independent Party, as what was on their voter registration card.

MCEVERS: So I mean, how does this happen? How...

MYERS: (Laughter).

MCEVERS: Is it just a matter of people not really paying close attention when they were registering?

MYERS: I think that's mainly it. I mean, you know, we talked to a lot of voters. We talked to people who had been polled, and we've subsequently talked to people around the state. California doesn't use the term independent to describe unaffiliated voters. We call them people who have no party preference, which is not exactly a term that people walk around on the street using, right?

So they see it on the form that says American Independent, and they go, oh, I'm an American; I'm an independent. And they check that box, and you know, only subsequently do they find out that they've become part of a party, which is kind of, you know, where the story goes from there in terms of what they're able to do once they're in that party.

MCEVERS: And because this is California, of course, you found there are some celebrities who are registered members of the American Independent Party. You've got Emma Stone, Demi Moore, Sugar Ray Leonard. What do they say about all of this?

MYERS: Well, they were surprised. And when we talked to their representatives, at first, you know, in some cases, we were told, no, there's no way. They are not in a party. And then we would show them the documents, date of birth, address, everything in the state voter file. And ultimately, you know, we got a response back, like, this is a mistake; we're going to change it.

And I think, you know, one of the interesting things for us, Kelly, is that when we went into this, we didn't know whether there was a particular subset of Californians who are more susceptible to this than others. And at the end of the day, there was not. I mean, it was all walks of life, all political persuasions leaning to the right, leaning to the left, rural, urban and average Joes and celebrities. All have made the mistake at some point.

MCEVERS: I guess the real question here is, what effect will this have on the presidential primary here in California, which, as we said, matters?

MYERS: Well, it's the one place that this actually could have an impact now. Republicans are not allowing any independent voters to cast ballots on June 7 here for the presidential race, so it will be only Republicans. But Democrats do allow independents to vote. And whether it has an impact, it may just be by the margins.

But you know, if California becomes hotly contested on that Democratic side - and some people think it could be; we know independent voters nationally have kind of aligned sometimes more towards the Bernie Sanders camp - it'll be really interesting to watch. And we've got several weeks here before voter registration closes, and we're going to keep an eye on it.

MCEVERS: That's John Myers of The LA Times. Thanks so much, John.

MYERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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